Current research topics

Food system mapping: urban agriculture, personal foodsheds, informal food

Farmland loss in Kyoto 2007-2017

My central research as part of the FEAST project. To promote transition to more sustainable agri-food systems, I aim to develop new ways to map existing and potential food systems. From precision mapping of urban agricultural land change processes to exploring personal foodsheds, food lifeworlds and tourist foodscapes, I combine quantitative and qualitative methods, including GIS, participant observation, interviews and participatory workshops. In a study mapping the transition of agriculture-related land use in Kyoto, we found that urban farmland decreased by about 10% from 2007-2017. This means Kyoto City is currently not well positioned to use its projected shrinking population to become more sustainable by relocalizing its food system. Other results suggest ecological footprint per capita rises with the size of cities. Recently, work on informal food practices has taken off, from mapping unmanned food sales stands to conceptual work on informality, food and sustainability.

Young children & urban green space: access during daycare, parks as commons,  demand hotspots

Young children’s access to nature is vital for their mental and physical health and development. But daycare centers in high density urban areas often cannot provide large gardens, and using parks as commons can lead to conflicts with other users and overcrowding. This research examines what challenges daycare centers in Japan face in providing young children with nature contact, what expectations parents have for children’s recreation while in daycare, and whether green space demand hotspots can be identified to improve green space planning. Early results suggest daycare center staff places high value on children’s access to greenspace, but are unsatisfied with the green space available. They also face obstacles such as complaints from other users, meaning children rely on the social capital of their caregivers. This work is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science with a three-year Grant-in-Aid for Young Scientists (B) from 2017-2020.

Degrowth, satomachi & decolonizers of the imaginary: degrowing Japan with biocultural cityscapes

In response to the environmental & social destruction caused by capitalism & economic growth, the degrowth movement calls for “downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet.” This research explores whether the population decline projected for some industrialized countries like Japan can help achieve such degrowth. This would also require overcoming engrained patterns of thought that limit our collective ability to imagine alternative futures. One aspect of this research therefore examines non-human/more-than-human approaches that are challenging researchers across different fields to think beyond anthropocentric models. Specifically, I aim to develop a landscape stewardship model for biocultural cityscapes (satomachi, 里町), drawing on the traditional Japanese concepts of satoyama and satomachi as well as the biocultural diversity theory. One major output of this research was recently published in the form of a special issue I co-edited on landscape and degrowth in post-growth societies with a focus on Japan, including my conceptual paper (in Japanese) on degrowth and landscape. Another preprint examines how we might decolonize our imaginaries from capitalism, and who might help us to do so.

Private and informal green space as green infrastructure: towards participatory maintenance policies

This research examines and compares how private and informal green space can function as green infrastructure. In particular, we focus on the role and potential of participatory maintenance policies. Fieldwork stretches across several sites in Tokyo (Japan). The project is a joint effort lead by PI Dr. Katsunori Furuya (Chiba University) and conducted in collaboration with Dr. Yui Takase (Ibaraki University), my former PhD student and now Dr. Minseo Kim (Chiba University) and Shōkan Kō (Chiba University). First results reveal that how residents view informal greenspace in Ichikawa City depended on how much contact with formal green space they have in their daily life.   This work is funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science with a three-year Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) from 2017-2020.

Multispecies coexistence: Japanese bees, beekeeping, and human-bee relationships across an urban-rural gradient

Japanese bees (Apis cerana) are neither domesticated nor completely ‘wild’. Provide shelter, and they may come, or not — or they stay, or leave! This research looks at the human-bee relationship in a Japanese context, and its associated social practices. In particular, the role of hobby beekeepers and other stakeholders, as well as the bee-friendly city as a vision for more livable urban areas have proven a fascinating area of study. Early results bring insights into demographics and motivation of hobby beekeepers, as well as into attitudes of residents towards urban beekeeping. This project is a joint effort lead by Dr. Maximilian Spiegelberg (RIHN) and conducted in collaboration with Rika Shinkai (RIHN) and Dr. Jingchao Gan (Nagoya University), and has won several internal and external grants.

Completed research

Informal urban green space: participatory management,  preferences for management goals in shrinking cities

Can residents manage informal urban green space themselves? Do they want to? How much municipal support do they require? These questions have emerged as central problems from earlier IGS research, and are key to unlocking the recreational potential of IGS. I examine them drawing on data from four major Japanese cities (Sapporo, Kyoto, Kitakyushu, Nagano). I found that residents know IGS in their neighborhood throughout all cities, prefer management over non-management, and propose eight principles for strategic IGS planning policy in Japan. This research was funded by the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature with a one-year Early Career Researcher Support Grant from 2016-2017.

Ready for more-than-human? Urban residents’ willingness to coexist with animals and plants

Cities do not just belong to us humans. But how willing are residents to share their neighborhoods with non-humans, be it animals or plants? What animals do we want to live close by, what animals are we reluctant or barely tolerate? Are these preferences related to place and culture? I found that residents in different countries react to different animals in different ways, and informal green space may play a role as a ‘territory of encounter’ where we relax our expectations, opening up space where human rules are weakened.

Informal urban green space as anti-gentrification strategy?

Making neighborhoods greener can cause land prices to rise, a process called eco-gentrification. This research used GIS and statistical analyses to show that informal green space is available regardless of local socio-economic conditions. It then took a closer look at several Japanese cases to look at ways IGS can be ‘just green enough’: from informal riverside community gardens to formalized usage arrangements for powerline utility corridors in Nagoya.

Informal urban green space: trilingual systematic reviews of  benefits for residents, benefits for biodiversity

I conducted two comprehensive systematic reviews in English, German and Japanese of the literature on informal urban green spaces. The first review found that informal green space plays an important role for urban residents, providing a large variety of recreational opportunities beyond a simple park substitute.  The second review identified informal green space as a major factor in urban biodiversity conservation, and argues routine maintenance threatens this function. Part of my doctoral research.

Informal urban green space: human perception, preference, and past and present use in Sapporo and Brisbane

Using mail-back surveys, this research examined what role informal urban green space plays for residents in their daily lives, and how they evaluate and use it. Results showed that more residents than expected are already using IGS for recreation, even though their view of it as an element of the urban landscape is not always positive. Evaluation and use differed between Australian and Japanese survey sites.

Informal urban green space: rapid assessment of quantity and IGS types

Through two extended field surveys in Sapporo and Brisbane, I developed a rapid assessment method to measure how much informal urban green space exists in cities,  what types it consists of, what its vegetation structure is, and how accessible it is. Results show IGS accounts for about five percent of central urban land use, with vacant lots and street verges as major contributing types.